What’s Your Story?

Our backgrounds reveal who we once were and how we got to where we are

The empty patio chairs and the cleared table seem an appropriate symbol of our inability to gather this past year. At the same time, the chairs evidence the many conversations that went on there, sort of a “musical chairs” effect as people came and went. 

Two events converged to prompt this contemplation. One is the many television images of young people partying on the beaches for Spring Break, older folks in restaurants and dancing at parties, all eager to burst out the coronabubble that’s plagued us for a year. The other is the accumulated experiences of seeing people of all ages ignoring the people they’re with, preferring to talk to someone else on the phone. I sometimes wonder; What’s so important it can’t wait? And what are they talking about?     

While writing my novel Soul Train, I wanted to model one of the characters after a dear friend and colleague of twenty years. He’d recently passed away and I realized that the only thing I knew about his personal life, aside from what I learned from his wife, was the university he attended. I knew his worldview and philosophy of life, but I knew very little about the experiences that had shaped it. Fortunately, after contacting some of our mutual friends and colleagues, I was able to piece together some of the amazing places he’d been and things he’d experienced and done. In the process, I became aware of how little I knew about many of the people who, on many business and social occasions, sat across from me.

When we apply for a job we hand over our resumes and curriculum vitae to strangers, but chances are members of our family and friends would be surprised by some of the items on them. Maybe we don’t share that information out of modesty, or because it would bore people. But in an appropriate context, such as informal get-togethers, the sharing of stories about a person’s family, education, employment, travels, significant others and formative events can promote understanding and deepen our appreciation, perhaps even provide life lessons for young people and others. It would provide topics for future conversations with a person, and deepen our respect for their life’s journey.

To avoid the “Do you want to talk about me or should I?” embarrassment, the host or someone else could suggest, “You know what would be great? How about we go around and each one take ten minutes to tell the highlights of their story?” My first experience of this was in a Dale Carnegie class when I was in high school. The lesson being taught was “Speak in terms of the other person’s interests.” I came away knowing the names and backgrounds of thirty adults (I was the youngest). Much later, as an adult, I experienced this again on several occasions. Each time it was so delightful, I remember many of the people and their backgrounds to this day. And importantly, those “round-robin” stories invigorated our conversations on other matters. 

The sharing of personal histories within the family is especially important for young people. It helps to shape their identity, ties them to the past and provides lessons for the future. Whatever the context, family, fun or business, it stimulates a lot of wonder, appreciation and laughter. 

Telling our personal story constitutes an act of consciousness that defines the ethical lining of a person’s constitution. Recounting personal stories promotes personal growth, spurs the performance of selfless deeds, and in doing so enhances the ability of the equitable eye of humanity to scroll rearward and forward. Every person must become familiar with our communal history of struggle, loss, redemption, and meaningfully contemplate the meaning behind our personal existence in order to draft a proper and prosperous future for succeeding generations. Accordingly, every person is responsible for sharing their story using the language of thought that best expresses their sanguine reminiscences. Without a record of pastimes, we will never know what we were, what we now are, or what we might become by steadfastly and honorably struggling with mortal chores. — Kilroy J. Oldster (Author, Dead Toad Scrolls)

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Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

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